Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lies... Part of this Balanced Breakfast

When I was a kid, I loved me some Cocoa Puffs.  I didn't get them that often, because my parents were not advocates of hyping me up on sugary cereals.  But I was never convinced that they had the right of it.  My Saturday mornings were laden with, between incidents of Wile E. Coyote blowing himself up (yet again) with a pair of Acme rocket-powered roller skates, an endless parade of commercials showing me how my beloved chocolatey puffs could be part of a balanced breakfast, so long as you surrounded it with piles of toast, juice, fruit, and milk.

If you're wondering why we Americans find it difficult to discern the truth anymore, maybe it's because we haven't heard much of it in a very long time.

As a marketer, I know that the key to getting people to respond is not through facts, but through emotion.  I can't tell you that eating your vegetables will promote a whole host of health benefits, even though it's true.  But if I show you images of a happy family eating a meaningful dinner together featuring a bowl of steaming green beans being passed around, now I've got you.  In fact, I can sell you something that you are factually skeptical about and make you willingly ignore those rational concerns if I package it right.  As humans, we are hard wired to prefer feeling good about something than being correct about something.

The applications of this tactic are literally everywhere in our life.  My time researching and writing on nutrition and fitness brought this home with a thud.  The fitness and nutrition industries are MASSIVE, multi-billion dollar enterprises, and the vast majority of what we are sold is of little or no actual value or benefit.  Vitamins, cleanses, fancy diet plans, diet books, the Thigh Master?  And the labeling and packaging practices of food manufacturers are so cleverly crafted, we actually think Nutella is "crafted from wholesome ingredients".  Yet, the country is fatter and sicker than ever before.  We ignore the obvious lack of results and opt instead for the validation of a label.

The effect of this endless barrage of insincerity on our brain is alarming.  It's bad enough that we are conditioned over our lifetime to believe things that we would otherwise rationally dispute.  In doing that - in rejecting that skeptical part of our mind - we have atrophied our ability to smell a fish story when we hear it.  Our entire perception of reality is therefore compromised.  We're basically mentally handicapped through conditioning.

And here's the thing:  political strategists have been following this practice for decades.  They know they don't need to (or even want to) tell you the truth about eating your vegetables.  They know they can get a lot more votes by striking an emotional chord, even if it is factually dubious. Campaigns pioneered micro-targeting and commercial marketers have taken their lead in using "Big Data" to refine and retarget their messages down to a segment of "you."  They no longer have to guess what will outrage or energize you; they KNOW.  And all they have to do is, quite literally, tell you just what you want to hear.  We know politicians lie.  We accept it.  And, we don't care.  That's surrendering what you know to be real in order to feel that emotional appeal.  And that should scare the crap out of you.

Aren't you tired of being lied to?  Aren't we all?  Red or Blue, left, right, or center, don't we deserve better?  Of course we do.  But we haven't demanded to be treated with respect by those who wish to represent us in government.  We haven't held ourselves accountable to rise above the "feel good" bumper stickers we are fed.  We keep buying Cocoa Puffs and calling it part of a balanced breakfast.

Expect more of your elected officials.  Reject the politics of emotion.

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